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Copyright & Fair Use for Education

A guide for faculty introducing copyright and fair use.

About this guide

This Guide should not be taken as legal advice in any way, shape or form.  None of the authors are attorneys!


According to University of Hawaiʻi policy, instructors are to make their own decisions about the use of copyrighted materials in their courses. For example, copyright needs to be considered when posting materials on course websites such as Laulima, in presentations using PowerPoint or Google Slides, or the showing of a video during a recorded Zoom class session.

This research guide provides resources and guidelines concerning copyright and fair use compiled from various sources. The creators of this guide are not legal experts and none of this information being provided is intended as legal advice.

The creators of this guide are not legal experts and the information provided in this guide is NOT intended as legal advice. The links to third party sites in this guide are provided for your convenience and UH Maui College does not take responsibility for the content of these other sites. If you have a question about a specific copyright issue not addressed by this guide, we encourage you to seek further advice.

If you have questions about this guide or a basic copyright issue encountered in your work, and need more help please contact one of the librarians: Jeffrey, Ellen or Shavonn. 

Latest UH Policy on Copyright (1992)

What is copyright?

According to the U.S. Copyright office: "Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works."

The copyright owner's set of protections grants them exclusive rights to:

  • ​Reproduce the copyrighted material
  • Create derivative works based on the original
  • To distribute copies of the work however they see fit.
  • Perform or display the work live or any other medium (i.e. online).

Why is copyright important?

Copyright is a legal definition granting exclusive rights to the author/creator of a work. The notion of copyright is important  for two reasons:

  • It ensures that the creators maintain ownership and rights of their creations.  
  • Copyright helps spurn creativity and original works by providing a profit motive for creators outside of government or patronage. This is why ideas are not protected but expressions of those ideas are protected.   


How long does copyright last?

The length of time for copyright protection has changed through history.  Works created after 1978 have protection for the life of the author plus 70 years.  Items created before that date will have different protections.   

Exceptions to copyright

There are some creative works which do not have copyright protection.  The most frequent you will encounter are:

  • Public Domain - Just as it states, items in this category are owned by the public.  Anyone can use a work in the public domain however they see fit.
  • Expired Copyright - Items whose copyright term has passed (with a few exceptions) become part of the public domain.
  • Facts and ideas -- These cannot be copyrighted but the expressions of them are protected. For example, the idea of a spaceship that travels around the galaxy exploring and meeting new races is not protected, but its expression as Star Trek is protected.
  • Creative Commons -- Creative Commons Licensing works with copyright law to protect the creator and still allow use of the materials with limited permission.
  • Legal exception such as Fair Use and the TEACH Act

Can I use copyrighted materials?


There are two main ways you can use copyrighted works for your courses:

  1. Obtaining Permission - It is possible to purchase the usage rights of materials from the copyright owner. 
  2. Fair use exception - Educational use does not automatically qualify as an exception.  You can use copyrighted materials for educational purposes, by demonstrating that your use falls under the "Fair Use" exception.

How to use copyrighted materials in your course

How to use copyrighted materials in courses

The following considerations can guide you in using copyrighted materials responsibly and ethically in your courses:


1. Determining which, if any, copyright protections apply to the work.

2. Deciding if/how you will use the copyrighted materials.

3. Figuring out the fair use exception.

4. Using the materials responsibly.

If you are going to use copyrighted materials, the most important question you need to ask yourself is:

"Why do I want to use this material?"


Video: Essential Copyright Knowledge

If youʻre ready for a deep dive.... This 2 hour webinar addresses many of the educational uses and legal concerns of using copyrighted materials.